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20 Years of Watchmaking  - Women's Watches: Part 1

20 Years of Watchmaking Women's Watches: Part 1

In 20 years, women’s watches (as well as their perception) have radically evolved – in part due to demand from a diverse clientele and also due to brand’s evolving understanding of what women are looking for in their watches*

Adding diamonds to a smaller version of men’s pieces has become a questionable strategy, for women have become a diverse group with growing interest and insight in terms of watches and why we wear them.

Setting sights on women

At the turn of the 21st century, as the tide of mechanical watches rose, luxury watchmaking brands looked to expand their clientele. While women’s watches have existed for centuries – the first appearance of a wristwatch being made for women while men at the time preferred to sport pocket watches – they’ve undeniably taken off in the last 20 years, as trends for ladies’ watches have evolved from petite, quartz-only watches to more mechanically complicated and studiously designed pieces. Like many other aspects of the watchmaking industry, the focus on producing ladies’ models began in parallel with brands’ re-emergence from the quartz crisis.

Women's Watches: Part 1

Calibre of the Margot © Christophe Claret

Women were (and still are) going to boutiques and retailers looking for their own timepieces rather than for the men in their lives. As female consumers’ economic autonomy increased, so did their purchasing power – and for anybody doing market research in luxury, it quickly became clear that there was immense potential for growth in the area of women’s watches. From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, watchmakers set their sights on watches for women – a strategy that aimed to both offer products for an underserved market, as well as hopefully creating demand for more women’s watches.

As female consumers’ economic autonomy increased, so did their purchasing power – and for anybody doing market research in luxury, it quickly became clear that there was immense potential for growth in the area of women’s watches.

An established name for not just watches but women’s watches as well, Patek Philippe launched the Twenty~4 at the dawn of the new millennium in 1999. This collection of ladies’ timepieces was also the brand’s first all-quartz collection. Back then, the Twenty~4 was rectangular with straight edges that flowed into an articulated bracelet. Clearly distinct from the brand’s much more widely known Nautilus, it has since become the brand’s bestselling ladies’ collection. However, like the clientele, the Twenty~4 evolved and was reworked into a round case (a more classic shape) with an automatic movement, as presented at Baselworld in 2019.

Women's Watches: Part 1

Twenty~4 Automatique © Patek Philippe

Not long after joining the Swatch Group, the brand renowned for its longstanding history in watches, Breguet, also bet on women with the launch of its Reine de Naples collection in 2002. To this day, the Reine de Naples remains a distinctive watch designed specifically for women. Its oblong, egg-shaped case frames an off-centre dial displaying the hours and minutes on these timepieces almost always presented in precious metals and diamond-set. Breguet was recognised for its effort in this field and the Reine de Naples even won the Ladies’ Watch Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG) in 2002.

Women's Watches: Part 1

Reine de Naples Princesse Mini 9818 © Breguet

And that was barely the beginning. During that same period, brand strategies for the watches clearly shifted towards a focus on women and answering two essential questions: how could they get more women to wear watches; and how could they design differently with ladies in mind? More and more brands attempted to respond to these challenges. Chanel, having expanded into watches, launched the J12 in 2000. Four years later, Girard-Perregaux released its oval-shaped Cat’s Eye, which also won the Ladies’ Watch Prize at the GPHG that year. Franck Muller banked on its Crazy Hours and popularised the tourbillon amongst its female clientele; Piaget highlighted its jewellery side with the Limelight collection; and Jaeger-LeCoultre introduced the Rendez-Vous.

Of course, certain brands and their collections grew to be established and iconic pieces among women. Chopard’s Happy Sport, presented in 1993, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018 with a retrospective of its bestselling collection featuring free-floating diamonds.

Women's Watches: Part 1

Happy Sport Love © Chopard

Cartier launched the Ballon Bleu de Cartier in 2007, and it quickly became one of the brand’s biggest bestsellers. The rounded case with the round sapphire cabochon crown remains classic and comfortable on the wrist no matter the metal, making it an instant success amongst both men and women.

Women's Watches: Part 1

Serpenti © Bulgari

Bulgari’s Serpenti also found huge acclaim for its distinct design fit for any wrist size. Between 2010 and 2020, Bulgari greatly expanded it to be more of a daily watch rather than just for special occasions, even establishing an app in 2018 that offered over 300 different combinations of straps and cases for the Serpenti watch. The offering of watches for women – meaning watches specifically created and designed for women – grew steadily and more widely in the early 2000s. More brands were throwing their hats into the ring, so to speak, and that was in large part due to the clientele driving brand strategy.

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English, with a 10% discount if you use the following code: WT2021.

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